On the boil - from entrepreneur to employer - Business Works
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On the boil - from entrepreneur to employer

by Craig McAuley, founder, Boiler Change Company After leaving school, Craig McAuley did a four-year apprenticeship as a plumbing and heating engineer. On the day he qualified, he was made redundant. Craig, founder and Managing Director of The Boiler Change Company in Glasgow with five staff, tells us about the challenges he faced.

When I was made redundant, I had just turned 21. It was a blow, but I felt I now had the opportunity to set up my own business, which had long been an ambition of mine. I thought a plumbing business would be a good idea because it's a traditional trade which wouldn't require a lot of start-up funding.

There are three main factors that prompt young people in Glasgow to start their own businesses: the lack of jobs for them; a sense of insecurity when they do have work; and concern about being stuck in positions that don't exploit the skills they gained at college. Young people are setting up all sorts of business in Glasgow, from traditional trades like mine to beauty therapists. Rather than doing apprenticeships, they are striking out on their own or going to local colleges to do intensive training courses. I put one of my employees on an intensive gas foundation course. The training cost just £200. This really helped me because otherwise he would have required an apprenticeship, which would have been expensive and time-consuming for me.

as long as you are confident and have self-belief

When I started, it was a steep learning curve. I didn't know how things would pan out. I did feel confident, but I worried that my age and the fact that I look so young would count against me. I just didn't know whether people would trust me. But it turned out that customers are open to using start-ups, especially those run by young people who tend to have low overheads and can offer more competitive rates. Reputation is important, especially in my line of work (which has a lot of health and safety issues). But you can build this up as long as you are confident and have self-belief.

Initially I got support from Business Gateway: they put me in touch with a business adviser who helped me develop a business plan. I also received loans from Glasgow City Council and the Prince's Trust. An important factor for young entrepreneurs is being able to learn from each other and to be inspired by success stories. It gives you a lot of confidence. I heard a well-known local entrepreneur, Oli Norman. speak at one of these events. He's become a kind of mentor. The best advice he gave me was just to go for it – don't get caught up in 'red tape’'. In Glasgow, there are a lot of networking opportunities run by organisations like the Prince's Trust. Local authorities organise these kinds of events as well, but could do more to promote them in the local media.

The biggest challenge I faced was - and is - competing against more-established businesses which rely on recommendations, referrals and newspaper advertisements. I and others like me get around this by being more internet savvy. We generate leads from Facebook pages and review sites and use tactics like search engine optimisation to get our company websites higher up the Google rankings. A strong online presence is important because even if people recommend you to potential customers, they will still want to go on the internet to check your reputation.

to provide someone a livelihood is very fulfilling

The business has grown each year. In my first year of trading, my turnover was £50,000. It's now £200,000 which has allowed me to take on staff. I now have five employees – a dream of mine even before I set up the business. To be able to provide someone a livelihood is very fulfilling. It's also very nice to get recognition for the success that I have had. I won the GERA Best Business Award in 2011 and a Prince's Trust Young Entrepreneur of Year Award in 2012.

For more information about the Boiler Change Company, Craig's business, please visit: theboilerchangecompany.co.uk

Entrepreneurs like Craig are being supported and encouraged by Virgin Startup

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